Saturday, April 17, 2010

HARDCORE (PAUL SCHRADER, 1979)


Paul Schrader is probably best known for his work on the film Taxi Driver. The movie that elevated Marty Scorsese to the top of the directing food chain, and made Robert De Niro an acting God, it was a disturbing and riveting piece of cinema. The script, written by Schrader is considered one of the all time greatest to come from the turbulent and innovative 1970s decade of film. Schrader would go on to write or co-write several other screenplays for Scorsese including 1980’s Raging Bull, 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ and 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead, which Scorsese once referred to as “Taxi Driver with an ambulance, instead of a cab”.

After the success of Taxi Driver, Schrader turned to directing, and in 1978, directed Richard Pryor in Blue Collar. He followed the film up with 1979’s Hardcore, starring George C. Scott. Schrader would later also direct the 1980 classic American Gigolo and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters in 1985. It is Hardcore, however, that has attracted my attention the most. A gritty L.A. set drama centering around a father searching for his teenage runaway daughter in the sleazy back alleys of a city known for its sleaziness and culture built primarily on sex.

Scott, in one of his last theatrical roles, stars as a middle-class mid-western single father, whose daughter goes off on a church-related trip to California. Days later, he gets a phone call saying she’s disappeared. After hiring a private detective, played by brilliant character-actor Peter Boyle, Scott’s character learns of a 8mm film his daughter performed in-a snuff film. Apparently, she’s now part of a disturbing group of adult actors and filmmakers and pimps. Scott decides to search the streets for himself. His performance shows the troubling transformation from a regular, middle-class citizen, into a cold-hearted animal sifting through the seedy parts of L.A. and San Francisco to find his daughter.

It is exactly the kind of film Schrader mastered over his long career. Taxi Driver, Hardcore, American Gigolo, Bringing Out the Dead, Auto Focus, among others, all center on troubled individuals, and societies that are obsessed. These obsessions transcend our basic understanding of this world. He chronicles the people from small cities, and the people from big cities who eat them alive. Schrader, who came from a very conservative family experienced a very repressed childhood, and reportedly, only saw his first film at age 18. It is a result of his repression that Schrader grew into a filmmaker primarily known for making very dark and disturbing films, about the underbelly of society.

Though he will probably be remembered mostly for Taxi Driver and his collaborations with Scorsese, his talents as a director cannot and should not be disregarded. And Hardcore is one of the best examples of his talents.

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